Working The Frame / by Peter Grant

Network Rail just gave me clearance for a set of photographs made recently in Oxford. This is perhaps the best frame in 300 or so I captured that morning, so I thought I’d share with you how the shot evolved. 

Quick point, this photograph is by no means perfect. At F3.2 on a 50mm lens meant the chap in the foreground was out of focus… the shutter was at 1/3000th, so it wasn’t like I needed any more speed. Another lesson! 

Some Background

Hinskey Park, Oxford

Hinskey Park, Oxford

Oxford is pretty known for its flooding. So during the two week block that happened on the Oxford line, Network Rail in conjunction with the Environment Agency decided to do something about the tracks flooding in this area. In these photographs we’re seeing the latter stages of the process after the ground has been moved up and the track relaid. The bulk of the action is dropping ballast down onto the recently laid track. 

Making The Frame

When we arrived I started capturing the arm moving ballast from the train to the tracks below. I noticed that I could capture dust coming off the ballast hitting the ground, with the wagon crossing the frame. 

At some point a pair of Gas Cutters started separating an old piece of track to be replaced at a later date just near to where I stood. I switched my focus towards what they where doing. As I captured their work, I focused on removing the initial distracting background of the access road and bushes. To do this I swung around to move the train into the background instead. 

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While all this was going on, the arm was moving up the track, to the right placing ballast into the frame. I placed myself in a position where I could capture the bucket opening, ballast falling, and the guy cutting the track. 

From here, I just played around with my position slightly while trying to capture the right moment with the tipper.

Post Processing

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This image was shot on a Fuji X-Pro 2, which while is a colour camera, I never see the colour image, so for me the basic image is always in black and white. On import images automatically get a Tri-X Preset applied (from Replichrome). 

From here I dug away with the adjustment brush, trying to get as much detail out of the sky as possible.

Then I wanted the dust being kicked up from the ballast to be as visible as possible, so I painted in some clarity.

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I then adjusted exposure, shadows and blacks to balance the image to how I like. Something I’ve come to like is using the shadows slider to really open up and let us see into the shadows, and then use the blacks slider to bring the contrast back in. This makes the darkest parts of the shadows a rich deep black, but the details that are lighter in tone in the shadows are visible. 

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The rest of the images from that morning that I believe are worth sharing can below. Thanks for reading.